Dear Radio: Covid-19 accelerates change in radio #coronavirusSA
by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) From the dawn of 2020, it was evident that change was coming to the way we thought of radio and audio marketing.
Advertisers had moved beyond the 30-second spot and, to keep the ad rands on radio, we had to improve measurement, add more visual and innovate with products such as sonic branding and 3D production. The listener had evolved: Gen Z, those born from mid-’90s onwards, moved towards radio and compounded the challenge of now juggling three diverse audiences — boomers, millennials and Gen Z — with differing tastes in music, presenters and world view on one platform.
Little did we know that the change would be completely out of our hands as first covid-19 and then uprisings in major cities around the world brought forward changes in thinking, attitudes, behaviour and technology that otherwise would have taken 3–5 years to achieve.
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People keep asking me what radio could look like in the future; if I had the answer to that, I would have the keys to the proverbial billion-rand question but I’ve noticed some initiatives and campaigns across the world of radio and audio that could point us in some sort of direction.
Early in lockdown, I spoke to a comedian about their industry. I wondered how a sector so popular in South Africa, and one of the most-listened to podcast categories, intended to survive? Naturally, many of them went virtual and even had the benefit of ballsy sponsors supporting them, but every comedian will tell you that, to perform, you need an audience. What do you do when you can’t hear the laughter?
One answer may be to ‘can’ it!
The Infinite Monkey Cage is a comedy show on the BBC that records in front of a live audience, which already makes it unique as far as radio goes. The audience is so key to the show and, faced with the prospect of no audience for a while, that it, too, turned to Zoom sessions with over 100 people in the virtual audience. The audience was then prompted to laugh, applaud and cheer at various points, which they would have been asked to do during the studio recordings anyway, which was then mixed down into the final show with the hosts.
When listening to episodes recorded live pre-lockdown and the new virtual ones, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference and, if you did not know the background, you wouldn’t even pick it up. Sure, it now takes four times longer to produce the same show but, right now, when we’re all pulling out tricks we’ve wanted to try for a long time, it’s a valuable exercise and one that is appreciated by the audience.
No one can judge any audio show that’s recording at home, over Zoom and Hangouts, and most people are appreciative of the content but it’s refreshing to find one that’s refused to compromise on the one thing that makes the show stand out. It’s audience.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, radio stations worldwide are looking at what they can do to right any wrongs. Lineups, playlists, content, events and even branding are being reviewed. Calling stations “urban” has been a long-used throwaway to describe a station but many are starting to remove that moniker from their call sign as we all review the language we so casually use.
Any station looking for inspiration won’t go wrong by clicking on theresnosignal.com. The online station started out casually as a mouthpiece to promote events around London but, as lockdown progressed and ended all those events, energy turned to the broadcast and the station brought in a more-diverse mix of DJs, contributors, producers, emcees and curators to create a movement that sees the station reach hundreds of thousands of people in 99 countries around the world.
Nigeria, Ghana and Jamaica make up large portions of the audience outside of London and listeners will experience an eclectic mix of music from Ghanaian hip-hop to 70s Afro-jazz and reggae.
It became the unofficial voice of the London Black Lives Matter marches and you should keep an eye on this station because it promises to be the biggest disruptive radio outlet in decades, and something we can all take inspiration from.
While podcast listening has remained flat during lockdown, production of podcasts boomed. During the worldwide lockdown, the one-millionth podcast series was added to Apple Music.
“God help us,” I hear you say. Just what the world needs: more rambling opinion from mealy-mouthed podcasters who spend the first 10 minutes saying hello to their guests, and other significant periods selling me mattresses and wix.com websites. Fear not, because Batman and Superman are coming to the rescue.
Spotify is continuing its quest to become the podcast leader and hoovering up podcast properties left, right and centre. It’s signed an exclusive deal with DC to produce podcast serials for its properties. The podcasts will follow a narrative format and will hark back to the radio serials of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, featuring Superman and his cast of super-friends. I’m a nerdishly big fan of those and look forward to the new versions. Marvel entered the podcast space about 18 months ago with the excellent Wolverine series and, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Joe Rogan, who hosts the most-listened-to podcast in the world, will move his show to Spotify soon, continuing many predictions that Spotify’s going to reroute the podcast conversation internationally and locally entirely.
Finally, a ’80s-related story to warm your heart (ok, probably only mine): The worldwide appeal of radio knows no borders as a radio contest in Singapore can reach into the heartlands of rural Buckinghamshire — whip up a (Spandau) ballet of emotions and I can assure you that every word of that story is… true (only ’80s music fans will get that).
A Singapore radio station, Gold 905, was running a mystery voice campaign (get all the voices right, win cash). Dedicated listener Muhammad Shalehan tracked the game every day and finally got on-air to play, confident he’d all the correct voices, only to be told he got one of them incorrect. Disappointed, he continued listening until the prize was won — by a person who gave exactly the same answers as he did.
On querying the station, it told him that he hadn’t been given the prize as he’d mispronounced the name of Tony Hadley, the lead singer of Spandau Ballet. Evidently not one to go down without a fight, Shalehan reached out to Hadley with his predicament and guess what? Tony replied and who better to tell you that you’ve pronounced his name correctly than the man himself. The radio station corrected its error, awarded Shalehan with his cash prize and he will now be a VIP guest of Hadley when he tours Singapore, whenever he can resume touring.
- Columns | Dear Radio – Paulo Dias
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Paulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to MarkLives.com